Tips to Interviewing 100+ WWII Veterans

Dick Willey brought home a Hitler Youth T-shirt from his time of service in Germany.
Vernon Byer brought home flag from Japan after serving there during the Occupation.

Vernon Byer brought home flag from Japan after serving there during the Occupation.

Sometimes people want to know what happens when I interview a World War II veteran. It’s a process and always a privilege.

First, I allot two hours for the interview. This does not include the time it takes to drive to/from the place where the veteran lives.

The two hours does include my getting set up with my tape recorder, notepad, getting both of us settled across from each other and then the actual talking. That can be quite a brain strain for the veteran! They are reaching back 70+ years for details! I recently listed the questions that I typically ask—53 minimum! Whew!

Bill Yaney also served in Japan during WWII with the Army.

Bill Yaney also served in Japan during WWII with the Army.

Then there are photos—prior to the interview I ask the veteran and/or his /her family to gather mementos, photos, souvenirs, books, cap/T-shirt from an Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana trip, medals, anything brought home from the war.

 

I’ve seen Nazi flags, Hitler Youth T-shirt, guns from many countries, Japanese shoes, Navy logbooks, uniforms, photos of locales all over the world. It’s all 70+ years old and fascinating!

I then drape these items over and around the veteran for the photos. I take several shots with my digital camera and then shoot more pics with my iPad to post online.

 

Then I ask the veteran to tell me of a brief incident that happened to him/her during the war. I tape that incident in a minute or so on the ipad.

Dick Willey brought home a Hitler Youth T-shirt from his time of service in Germany.

Dick Willey brought home a Hitler Youth T-shirt from his time of service in Germany.

The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel newspaper has been publishing my World War II stories. They have sometimes used these vids on their website (News-Sentinel.com).

You can access my stories here: Kayleen Reusser WWII stories.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

These are different stories than the 28 listed in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans.

I use my handheld scanner to scan old photos (I always try to get one of the veteran in uniform and any others), documents for verification and even book pages.

 

Finally, I pack up my gear in a small suitcase, thank the veteran for his/her time and leave. By the end of the time, I’m tired but exhilarated. I think the veteran is probably tired too! The interview is quite a mind-numbing session, but totally worth it.

Here’s why.

Each interview means I’ve made a new friend. That’s how I see the vets and how I hope they view me.

I’m thrilled because another veteran has entrusted his/her story to me. That is a privilege.

I’m also thrilled because we have another piece of our national heritage documented. So far, I’ve interviewed 100+ vets from across Indiana.

They are not just a number. Each story is unique and precious. I record each veteran’s birthday and send them cards. I’m also going to send Christmas cards this year! When possible, I visit the vets.

Sure, I wish I had begun interviewing like this 10 years ago. But I was not ready then for the commitment it requires. I believe in ‘better late than never’.

Hey, we have 100 stories that we didn’t have a few months ago!

What are you doing to preserve our nation’s heritage?

 

WWII vet Bob Foster Served Family, Friends, Country

Bob Foster -- today good
Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

On the air! Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

I was saddened to hear of the death of a World War II vet featured in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

Robert ‘Bob’ E. Foster, 92, of Fort Wayne, passed away on Monday, July 20, 2015. I met Bob through a friend a couple of years ago. He was friendly and excited to tell me his story of being a soldier in the US Army during World War II. I included his account in my book. An excerpt is included here:

The fighting at Cherbourg continued for two weeks with an Allied victory. Six months later, Foster was involved in another brutal conflict at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. The conflict, which began on December 16, 1944, took place during one of the coldest winters on record. For three months the soldiers fought while sleeping in foxholes filled with snow. Many soldiers froze to death. “Dead soldiers were stacked 20 feet high,” said Foster.

Struggle against the elements was only part of the challenge to survive. When Foster’s captain put him in charge of the platoon for a raid on a town in Belgium, he handed Foster a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) with 15 clips of 30-caliber shells, weighing approximately 15 pounds. “Our other BAR man had been killed,” said Foster.

Bob Foster fought with the US Army in WWII.

Bob Foster fought with the US Army in WWII.

The BAR could shoot like a machine gun, but was little protection against German tanks, which shot 88-millimeter shells, the biggest in the world. When the Germans opened fire on Foster’s platoon, a shell critically damaged his captain’s leg. Foster was also injured in the knee and head but tried to help his captain, pressing his hand against the wound to staunch the flow. Sadly, the captain died.

Foster, weak from his own blood loss, collapsed and medics rushed him to an aid station. Later, he was transferred to hospitals in Paris and England where he recovered and returned to his unit in Germany.

**

Bob Foster & Reusser fam Dec '14

Bob Foster & Reusser fam Dec ’14

Our family visited Bob last Christmas. It was a sweet visit but not the last time we saw Bob. In Feb 2015 we drove him and another vet from my book, Don Shady, to Indianapolis to appear on a live radio station at the University of Indianapolis. Our host was Nelson Price. Our subject, of course, was WWII. The guys, neither of which had ever been interviewed on radio, did swell!

Bob Foster -- today good

Bob Foster on his Honor Flight of Northeast IN

This excerpt from the tribute given at Bob’s funeral by Ted Linn of WANE-TV gives a behind-the-scenes look at what happens on an Honor Flight:

“I met Bob on October 23, 2013 for Honor Flight 11 out of Fort Wayne. We at WANE-TV had recently partnered with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana. My boss and I went as guardians. I was assigned to Bob Foster.

“Who’s he?” “Oh, you’ll like Bob. He’s a Purple Heart veteran with a couple of Bronze Stars.” “Wow!” I said.

That day he told me how his wife Phyllis, who had died in 2013, and others at their church had prayed him through the worst days of World War II and the war in Europe.  Afterward, he came home to raise a family and work for the USPS.

Bob Foster was a spiritual man. I was, too. We were kindred spirits.  Lovers of God, lovers of His Son, lovers of God’s people, lovers of the Word. Bob loved Psalm 84:11, “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

I knew I’d stay in touch with Bob Foster.  Not every day, not even every month, but when we did talk, he’d mention how wonderful Honor Flight was and how good of care I took of him that day.

I just read this week Isaiah 40, verse 8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall (that’s Bob today), but the word of our God endures forever.”

Bob struck me as a classic World War II veteran who insisted on doing his duty. He ended up in some incredibly dangerous, life-threatening situations in the European Theatre.

He survived to return to his wife in Indiana, work and support his family, and center his life around his God.

He never lost his God-given pride for all of that and his good nature, but he never let any of it get the best of him or make him vain, at least not in the 21 precious months that I had the privilege of knowing this fine man.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about a hero of mine, Bob Foster.

**

Every day World War II vets are dying. In today’s newspaper I read of another vet who died this week and whom I interviewed last year for a local newspaper. Another vet also died this week from my area whom I didn’t know and didn’t get to interview. I consider that a loss for our American heritage.

Our World War II vets are our nation’s oldest vets. I’m trying to interview as many of them as possible to preserve our heritage. I can’t do it alone. Please, if you know a veteran of any era, ask him/her to tell the story of their life and record it. You’ll be glad you did.

Purple Heart Day

kayreusser:

The Purple Heart has an interesting history. I’ve interviewed several WWII vets and Vietnam who have been awarded Purple Hearts. Be sure to read about the American soldier who has been awarded the most Purple Hearts!

Originally posted on Pacific Paratrooper:

Purple Heart patch for those wounded in WWII Purple Heart patch for those wounded in WWII

On this date in 1782, in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington created the “Badge for Military Merit,” a decoration consisting of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk, edged in silver, with the word Merit etched.  It was to be presented for any one meritorious action and it permitted the wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge.   The honoree’s name and regiment were to be inscribed in “The Book of Merit.”

Purple Heart certificate given during the Korean War Purple Heart certificate given during the Korean War

Only three soldiers are known to have been awarded this medal during the Revolutionary War: Elijah Churchill, William Brown and Daniel Bissell Jr.  The Book of Merit was lost and the medal was virtually forgotten.  In 1927, General Charles Summerall  sent an unsuccessful draft bill to Congress to revive the Badge.

Patch for Afghanistan Patch for Afghanistan

General Douglas MacArthur took up the cause…

View original 340 more words

Birthday Tribute to World War II Vet Don Shady

Don Shady fought in Army Air Corps in WWII.
Don Shady fought in Army Air Corps in WWII.

Don Shady fought in Army Air Corps in WWII.

Today I want to say ‘Happy birthday’ and give tribute to a World War II vet that I’m happy to call my friend.

We attend the same church and usually see each other weekly, but I didn’t know Don Shady well when I interviewed him about his experiences in the Army Air Corps during the war.

In fact, I had not interviewed many Army Air Corps members at that time and fear I may have burdened him with some silly questions about the American military’s newest branch (it became the Air Force in 1947).

But Don was patient with me and believed in me enough to allow me to put his story in the book World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

His is one of 28 World War II stories from Allen, Adams, Wells, Whitley, Huntington counties.

Don shared accounts of when he was piloting a C47 during battle. The following is an edited excerpt from my book:

In December 1944 Lieutenant Shady was involved in the Siege of Bastogne. It was a battle between American and German forces at the Belgian town of that name.

Weather aided the German army’s efforts. “A low ceiling from cloud cover prevented us from taking in supplies early by air, but we flew on Christmas Day and the day after,” said Shady. The siege lasted one week until the nearly depleted American forces were relieved by General George Patton’s Third Army.

Since the book has been published, Don has helped with its publicity.

Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

On February 28, Don and another vet featured in my book, Bob Foster, accompanied John and me to Indianapolis to be interviewed by Nelson Price on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. The hour-long show, Reflections of World War II veterans, was a success largely due to Don’s contribution in recounting his war experiences.

He had shared with me that he had never been on the radio in his life. It meant a lot to me that he was willing to venture out on a snowy day to go with us on an all-day trip.

WWII vet Shady good

More recently Don and three local World War II vets participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Wells County Public Library. Don shared his story of helping to liberate Polish prisoners of war back to their homeland. “They were filthy and we had to delouse the plane after each trip, but it was rewarding,” he said.

Thanks Don for being such a gentleman and kind friend. I’m glad we’ve gotten to know each other.

**

WWII Legacies: Stories of NE IN Veterans is available at this site’s homepage using the Paypal button.

WWII Legacies Profile: Paul Zurcher

Paul Zurcher was awarded Purple Heart after being wounded in WWII.

Zurcher uni Purp Heart

Thirteen weeks after being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, Paul Zurcher of Monroe was on the front lines of battle in Italy. He was part of the 10th Mountain Division, a machine gun squadron in which Zurcher served as the ammunition bearer.

Often, while burrowed in a foxhole during battle, 19-year-old Zurcher wondered about his future. “I didn’t know if I would survive,” he said.

Digital StillCamera

Digital StillCamera

This is the beginning of the story I wrote for my book about a great World War II veteran and Christian man. I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Zurcher after hearing about him and his business from many people in my area. One of Mr. Zurcher’s biggest fans is my husband who loved to do business at Zurcher’s Best-One Tire and Auto Care in Monroe, Indiana.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans


Last year when putting together my stories for my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans, I asked Mr. Zurcher for an interview.

He was happy to sit with me in his conference room. Afterward we took a walk around his large tire empire. This 90-year-old trotted around the huge buildings so fast that I had trouble keeping up!

He had a great story about growing up poor and learning to value family and a relationship with God more than anything. He developed his tire business after the war and it is well known throughout the world today.

I actually interviewed Mr. Zurcher on the day he was awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash from the governor of Indiana! This is the highest award given to a resident.

His time in the war was dynamic. Mr. Zurcher was the first to be part of the Italian invasion with the 10th Mountain Division. He was shot in the chest in combat and survived. He was later awarded a Purple Heart.

Zurcher Paul
He also attended the book launch party I conducted in November 2014 at the Bluffton Armory.

It’s amazing to me that after interviewing 80+ World War II vets (my goal is to interview as many as I can!), I still hear unique stories like this one.

You can read the rest of Paul Zurcher’s story and those of 27 other veterans in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. Click the ‘Buy Now’ button on my Home page.

Mr. Zurcher was signed up to go on an Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana but sadly passed away on May 7, 2015, just days before his flight.

Read more about Paul Zurcher’s life Paul Zurcher obituary

It was an honor to get to know Mr. Zurcher from these events. I’m sure his presence is missed.

If you know a World War II vet, be sure to tell them thank you. If they live near a group that takes Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana trips, help to arrange their passage on it.

British Naval Officer Lived in Churchill’s Home

British-born Dorothy Blue holds book about Winston Churchill which mentions her military service during WWII.

British-born Dorothy Blue holds book about Winston Churchill which mentions her military service during WWII.

 

 

 

 

World War II involved more than American soldiers. I say that facetiously because of course, many countries were fighting for years before the US was involved.

 

I had the privilege a few years ago of meeting a gal who was British and who had an unusual connection with World War II. What those poor people experienced is hard to imagine. If you’d like to get a good idea, I recommend Foyle’s War, available on DVD and Acorn Online. This is an EXCELLENT series about Britain’s role in WWII from the viewpoint of a policeman who solves crimes along the coast.

This show has received many awards and continues today after 8 seasons. I’ve viewed it many times and always learn something about the war. It was created by Anthony Horowitz who also wrote many episodes. I’m interested in other personal, untold stories about WWII. Please let me know if you have one you’d like to share.

Stories like this make up my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. If you’d like to order a copy, click on the Paypal button at the top of the Homepage of this site.

Tell an American military veteran thank you today!

**

It was a wedding Dorothy Blue of Ossian, IN, was sorry to miss. Unfortunately, Blue, 88, didn’t feel well enough to travel, especially the distance from her Ossian home to the location of this special occasion. She sent an apology letter at having to miss the happy union.

Attending the happy event would have indeed meant a great deal of travel and effort. For one thing, the union took place overseas, in London, to be exact.

 It might have also been a challenge traveling through the streets of England’s capital to Westminster Abbey where the wedding would take place. As it happened, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world had come to London, hoping to glimpse the famous pair being wed. 

On April 29, 2011, Blue watched the wedding to which she had been invited on TV. Prince William and Catherine Middleton were made man and wife in an event that was surely one of the most exciting events in England’s history for the past several decades.

Blue’s invitation to the Royal Wedding was the result of more than half a century of friendship between herself and that of the famous British leader of World War II, Winston Churchill.

 

“During the war, I served as secretary to Lord Moran, Churchill’s physician,” she said. “Mr Churchill and I met through that acquaintance.” Churchill’s grand-nephews had issued the invitation to Blue to attend the wedding.

 

Blue’s six degrees of separation to meeting Churchill began when she joined the British Navy in 1939.  Born in 1923 in England, Blue had won a scholarship to King’s College in London at age 16. For two years she studied music and psychology.

 

When in 1939 England declared war on Germany, Blue was ready to volunteer. She and her parents had been bombed in an air raid shelter and lost their home. Dorothy joined the military; her parents lived in the air raid shelter for five years during the ensuing war.

 

Blue served as an ensign officer in the British Navy. Her duties included serving as secretary to Dr. Charles McMoran Wilson. Lord Moran, as the doctor was known, was Churchill’s primary physician from 1940 when the latter became Prime Minister until Churchill’s death in 1965.

 

Born in 1874, Churchill was the most dominant figure in British politics during the war against Germany. According to Blue, Churchill became ill during the latter part of the war and Moran and Blue resided in his home for six months while he recuperated.

 

What was it like living in Winston Churchill’s home? “Mr. Churchill had a large, luxurious home with maids and a butler,” Blue recalled. “While living there, it was hard to remember there was a war going on.” As for the man himself, Blue observed, “He drank brandy and smoked cigars and was very loyal to England. He was a nice man.” At the time Churchill’s wife lived at another residence.

 

Blue’s dedication to her work and the Prime Minister was such that when Lord Moran wrote his book, Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran (published by Houghton Mifflin 1966 in Boston) he dedicated it to her. The dedication stated, “To Dorothy who has been given back to me and to John & Jeffrey (Churchill’s grandsons)”. Lord Moran also included incidents about her in the book. “The dedication referred to a time when the military had re-assigned me to another position and then returned me to work with Lord Moran,” said Blue.

 

On the day of our interview Dorothy Blue said her daughter had the invitation to the Royal Wedding.

 

In 1945 Dorothy married John Mead, an American soldier. They left England to move to Mead’s hometown of Huntington, Indiana. The couple became parents to a son and daughter and later, three grandchildren. Dorothy worked for many years at the Huntington Court House in the Auditors office.

 

John Mead died in 1983 and Dorothy remarried Harold Blue in 1991. They moved to Ossian in 1996.

 

Sadly, Dorothy’s son from her first marriage, Kent who was an Air Force pilot, died in a training accident at Sawyer Air Force Base in 2000. Harold Blue died within three weeks of Kent.

 

Dorothy died in 2013. Her life was unusual and sometimes difficult but she continued to contribute to her community by volunteering with various craft groups and her church. “I tried to take everything in stride during my life,” she said. “The war was everywhere and I saw much sadness, but overall I’ve led a fantastic life.”

 

 

 

WWII Radio Interview: Success!

Relaxing with Nelson Price (L) after being interviewed on his live radio show.
Relaxing with Nelson Price (L) after being interviewed on his live radio show.

Relaxing with Nelson Price (L) after being interviewed on his live radio show.

 

You can tell by the expressions on our faces that World War II vets Bob Foster & Don Shady and I enjoyed our time on the air last week with talk show host Nelson Price. Nelson is the host of a long-running live history talk show —Hoosier History Live!

 

Hoosier History Live is the nation’s only live-with-call-in radio history show. It airs noon-1pm ET on WICR 88.7 Indianapolis or online. The studios are located on the campus of University of Indianapolis.

 

Nelson has written several books on the subject of Hoosier (the word ‘Hoosier’ refers to someone from Indiana, for those of you not familiar with our state’s colloquialism) history.

 

The topic of my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans, appealed to Nelson. He graciously invited me to bring two World War II vets profiled in my book to the studio for a live radio interview.

 

Talking on live radio was a new experience for Bob and Don. They did great!

Talking on live radio was a new experience for Bob and Don. They did great!

That meant driving 2 hours each way from northern Indiana where we live and where most of the vets from my book live. It was sure to be a long day, especially if weather was a problem.

 

I was thrilled when Army Air Corps pilot Don Shady and Army vet Bob Foster consented to the trip.

 

You don’t know how many prayers went up for good weather!

 

Thankfully, it was a glorious day with sunshine and clear driving conditions. My wonderful husband, John, drove us to the campus.

 

We were all a little nervous but Nelson’s professional attitude put us at ease. He had questions and a show format prepared and went over them with us before the show. The hour sped by and I was proud of Don and Bob for speaking well on the air.

 

Lunch at Santorini Greek Restaurant with owner Jeanette Sawi was fun and delicious!

Lunch at Santorini Greek Restaurant with owner Jeanette Sawi was fun and delicious!

It was a delight to meet the show’s producer, Molly Head. (That’s her peeking behind my shoulder) She and Nelson dined with us after the show at a nearby Greek restaurant. Santorini Greek Kitchen (1417 E. Prospect St, Indianapolis) was beautiful and a wonderful experience. I had never eaten Greek food except baklava and was not sure what to expect. The food was beyond our expectations.

 

This photo shows just our salads, but we later ate delicious main dishes that I have no way of pronouncing or spelling here. Suffice it to say, we left the restaurant with full, happy stomachs!

 

The restaurant owner, Jeanette Sawi, sat with us for a while and chatted with Don and Bob. I think we created lifelong memories with our visit! Thanks Jeanette and her husband, Taki, for a delicious meal and hospitality!

 

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

I’m booking speaking engagements now about my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

 

If you know of a group that would like to know what it has been like to interview 75+ World War II vets and write a book about some of their experiences, contact me. xxxkjreusser@adamswells.comxxx (remove the X’s which are there to prevent Spam). The book is available now at the Paypal button on my site’s home page at top. It would be a perfect gift for a history lover, Baby Boomer or veteran.

Take the time today to tell a vet thank you!